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Catching the virus: how cybercriminals are targeting children during the lockdown

Cybercriminals are exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to target children forced to stay at home as a result of enforced lockdowns across the world.

With millions of schools closed, many children are now being homeschooled via digital lessons and video chats, and that is putting a huge strain on the infrastructures that support online internet services,

Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement arm, says an increase in so-called ‘cybercrimes’ shows how criminals are making the most of any opportunities offered by any vulnerabilities in online systems, including child sexual exploitation.

Exploiting online vulnerabilities

This is an issue which ‘greatly concerns’ Catherine de Bolle, Europol’s Executive Director. She said: “While many people are committed to fighting this crisis and helping victims, there are also criminals  who have been quick to seize the opportunities to exploit the crisis.”

Europol says that during the COVID-19 pandemic, criminals have been quick to seize opportunities to exploit the crisis by adapting their modi operandi and engaging in new criminal activities. Cybercriminals have been among the most adept at exploiting the pandemic. It has published an updated threat assessment of potential further developments and, in addition to child sexual exploitation, the report also includes threats like such DDoS (disrupting servers), ransomware (threats to publish unwanted information online), the ‘dark web’, and disinformation & interference campaigns.

Catherine De Bolle added: “This pandemic brings out the best but unfortunately also the worst in humanity. With a huge number of people teleworking from home, often with outdated security systems, cybercriminals prey on the opportunity to take advantage of this surreal situation and focus even more on cybercriminal activities. With this report we want to warn individuals, companies, public institutions and other organisations about these criminal activities. I would also like to draw special attention to the most vulnerable among those victims.

‘Very concerned’

“I am very concerned about the rise of child sexual abuse online. Europol is investing resources and capacities to support Member States in countering cyber-dependent crime during this difficult situation.”

The report’s findings are based mainly on EU country contributions and Europol’s partner countries. Among its main findings are an increase in the online distribution of child sexual exploitation material, based on a number of indicators.

Europol is supporting the national law enforcement authorities in the international coordination of cyber-related cases, by connecting the investigations, facilitating information exchange, operational analysis and forensic services. Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) is specialised in supporting the prevention and investigation of cyber-attacks, child sexual exploitation, payment fraud and the online trade of illegal commodities through the dark web, becoming a cybercriminal information hub and a platform for cooperation with the private sector and the cybersecurity community.

Download the full report here.

Author: Simon Weedy

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